House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., has reportedly given Fox News host Tucker Carlson exclusive access to thousands of hours of security footage recorded during the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol.
First reported on Monday by Axios, the decision to hand the trove of sensitive security footage over to Carlson, who has promoted numerous Jan. 6 conspiracy theories on his program, prompted criticism from many Democrats.
“It’s hard to overstate the potential security risks if this material were to be used irresponsibly,” said Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., former chair of the now-defunct House select committee to investigate the Jan. 6 riot, in a statement issued late Monday.
What is the footage in question?
Carlson and his Fox News producers have reportedly been given access to 41,000 hours of unreleased security footage from the Capitol riot that was shot from multiple different cameras.
The former House select committee investigating the insurrection was previously given access to the complete trove of footage, and a number of excerpts from the tapes were played during the panel’s high-profile hearings last year. However, the bulk of the footage was not aired due to security concerns.
“When the Select Committee obtained access to U.S. Capitol Police video footage, it was treated with great sensitivity given concerns about the security of lawmakers, staff, and the Capitol complex,” Thompson said in his statement on Monday.
“Access was limited to members and a small handful of investigators and senior staff, and the public use of any footage was coordinated in advance with Capitol Police,” he continued.
Why did McCarthy give the footage to Carlson?
It’s not clear whether McCarthy, who has not commented publicly on his decision to give Carlson access to the footage, did so in consultation with Capitol Police, or what his ultimate motive may be. In response to a request from Yahoo News to confirm whether Capitol Police were consulted on the move, Capitol Police Chief Tom Manger said only: “When congressional leadership or congressional oversight committees ask for things like this, we must give it to them.”
On his program Monday night, Carlson said he and his producers were reviewing the footage, “trying to figure out what it means and how it contradicts or not the story we’ve been told for two years.” Carlson added that he hoped to release his findings next week.
Who else has seen the footage?
Defendants in federal court for criminal charges in connection with the insurrection have also been given access to thousands of hours of unreleased security footage from Jan. 6, but federal prosecutors have successfully fought to maintain strict control over those videos.
In 2021, more than a dozen news outlets sued for access to the videos. But even after a federal judge in Washington, D.C., ruled that the public has a strong interest in seeing some of the footage, video has been released on a case-by-case basis in response to requests from news outlets only after they’ve been played in court.
In a 2021 court filing opposing the release of some of the footage sought by the news outlets, federal prosecutors argued that “once the capabilities of a U.S. Capitol interior surveillance camera, including its position and whether it pans, tilts or zooms, is disclosed to the public via the release of a single video from that camera, the cat is out of the bag.”
What have McCarthy and Carlson said about the footage?
While campaigning for the speakership, McCarthy promised that the newly elected Republican House majority would hold hearings on the security failures that led to the Capitol breach, and instructed the select committee to preserve all of its records for possible review. McCarthy defied a subpoena from the select committee for testimony about his own communications with then-President Donald Trump on Jan. 6.
During a press conference last month, McCarthy indicated that he agreed with Republicans who’d previously called on former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to release all of the Jan. 6 footage, telling reporters, “I think the public should see what happened.”
A spokesperson for McCarthy did not respond to a request for comment from Yahoo News.
The choice of Carlson as the sole recipient of the footage was a source of particular concern for some members of the Jan. 6 committee.
Carlson, the most-watched primetime cable news host, has repeatedly used his platform to downplay the severity of the attack on the Capitol and cast doubt on the findings of the Jan. 6 committee’s probe into what happened on Jan. 6, while elevating baseless conspiracy theories about the federal government’s alleged involvement in inciting the riot.
Last year, Carlson produced a three-part documentary for Fox Nation called “Patriot Purge,” which laid out his thinly sourced argument that the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol was orchestrated by shadowy forces within the government to justify targeting ordinary Americans for their political beliefs.
In a statement to the Washington Post, Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., who served on the Jan. 6 committee, suggested that Carlson would be “searching [the footage] for any kind of shot that could support this deranged theory of what happened on Jan. 6.”
“If you want to make tens of thousands of hours publicly available, then it should be available for all media, not for just one propaganda mouthpiece,” Raskin said.
Thompson concurred. “If Speaker McCarthy has indeed granted Tucker Carlson — a Fox host who routinely spreads misinformation and Putin’s poisonous propaganda — and his producers access to this sensitive footage, he owes the American people an explanation of why he has done so and what steps he has taken to address the significant security concerns at stake,” he said in his statement.
Carlson defended the decision to give him access to the footage, telling Axios “there was never any legitimate reason for this footage to remain secret.”